By Brian Witte
Excerpted from U.S. News & World Report
Your safety school should be the college or university on your short list that serves as a backup if your target and reach schools do not work out in your favor. It is still a safety school, though, so your choice hardly matters – right?
Perhaps not. Take Howard, for example, whose primary safety school was a large state university with affordable tuition. When his target schools failed to offer sufficient financial aid, this university became his only option.
His target campuses had been small liberal arts colleges that complemented his innate shyness with class sizes that would ensure he met other students and spoke with his professors. At the large state university, Howard drifted for five years and struggled to make friends and select a major that he loved. He graduated, but college was hardly the transformative experience he had dreamed of.
Howard's story highlights one of the downsides of attending a safety school – it is only safe in terms of admission. There are real dangers in not choosing your safety school wisely. Here are key factors to consider when selecting a safety school.
• Intellectual engagement: You may have chosen your safety school because you were almost certain that you would be accepted based on your GPA and test scores. If so, you may quickly find that you are struggling because your classes are too simple for you.
• Available majors: Another danger of attending a safety school occurs if your focus shifts. Many students ultimately choose different majors than the ones they imagined in high school. These individuals may later realize that their safety school has excellent programs in particular concentrations but that it struggles to provide an elite education across the full range of academic programs.
• The intangibles: A third danger – one that Howard discovered – is that your safety school is a poor match in one or more categories. This may be school size, whether the campus is claustrophobically small or bewilderingly large.
Treat your safety school as a true option. Research its culture, majors, financial aid and academic rigor. It will not meet all of your criteria – it would be a target school if it did – but it should satisfy most of your requirements.
Too often, students do not take safety schools seriously until it is too late. Ensure, in short, that you could thrive at your safety school if you were to land there.
Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. Read his article in full as it appeared on usnews.com here.
By Doug Webber
Excerpted from fivethirtyeight.com
The rapid increase in the cost of college in recent decades — and the associated explosion in student debt, which now totals nearly $1.3 trillion nationally — is all too familiar to many Americans. But few understand what has caused the tuition boom, particularly at the public institutions that enroll roughly two-thirds of all students at four-year colleges. Many commenters, particularly in the popular press, focus on ballooning administrative budgets and extravagant student amenities. Those elements have played a role, to be sure, but by far the single biggest driver of rising tuitions for public colleges has been declining state funding for higher education.
It is true that today’s students enjoy better amenities — usually in the form of nicer gyms, dorms and dining halls, though some campuses feature lazy rivers and climbing walls — than I or, especially, my parents did during our time in college. It is also true that today's universities employe far more administratorsand staff who don’t have any direct role in either research or instruction. When my father attended the University of Florida1 in the 1970s, professors were required to also serve as academic advisors and meet individually with students to plan their schedules. Today, schools retain many staffers whose role is to assist both faculty and students. Some of those jobs are easy to mock: One frustrated grad student built a job-title generator that spits out bloated titles such as vice executive for the committee on dining relations.
And it is also true that professors (at least those on the tenure track) are paid better than the people who held those same jobs years ago. Average salaries for full professors (the highest rank) at top public institutions exceed $160,000 annually. Salaries for full professors have risen 12 percent in excess of inflation since 2000.
All of those trends add to the cost of college, but not by that much. At most, about a quarter of the increase in college tuition since 2000 can be attributed to rising faculty salaries, improved amenities and administrative bloat. By comparison, the decline in state support accounts for about three-quarters of the rising cost of college.
Consider Pennsylvania’s four public research institutions, one of which is Temple. Average tuition revenue per student (adjusted for inflation) increased by $5,880 between the 2000-01 and 2013-14 academic years (the most recent available data). State appropriations per student have declined nearly $4,000 over the same period, from about $7,750 to $3,900. Put another way, if Pennsylvania restored funding for higher education to its 2000 levels, Pennsylvania’s public research institutions could reduce tuition by nearly $4,000 per year without altering their budgets. For students, the impact could be even greater once loan fees and interest were taken into account.
By contrast, imagine that each of these institutions cut per-student spending for student services, administration and instruction back to 2000 levels, then passed those savings on to students in the form of lower tuition. How much would students save? Reducing student services would save each student $380 per year. Dropping all those new administrators would save $150 per student per year. And rolling back spending on faculty salaries would save $850 per year for the average student. Together, those three categories have added $1,380 to the cost of attendance since 2000, about a quarter of the total increase. At least some of that spending benefits students directly: Student-service spending has been found to increase the likelihood of graduating, and increased spending on instruction leads to higher earnings later in life.
National trends for all public four-year schools mirror those from the research institutions of Pennsylvania, although there are sizable differences across states. In the median state, South Carolina, the decline in state appropriations explains 81 percent of the increase in tuition revenue. Only three states — Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming — have kept funding for higher education on pace with inflation and enrollment growth. In 17 states, the price of college would have actually declined since 2000 if funding had been kept constant and the schools applied that money entirely to students’ tuition bills. While state funding has rebounded somewhat during the economic recovery following the Great Recession, most states’ increases have not kept pace with enrollment growth.
The picture is a bit different at private schools, which do not receive state funding but have nonetheless seen substantial tuition increases. At private nonprofit colleges, the spending categories described above — student services and faculty and administrative salaries — together explain most of the tuition increase over the past two decades. Among for-profit institutions, it is much more difficult to pin down a reason for tuition increases, though recent research suggests that one big cause is the generosity of federal student aid: Some institutions may be raising tuition in order to capture as much government-backed money as possible.
The overarching message is that there is no single cause of the tuition boom. The reason for rising costs differs based on the type of institution and the state it’s in, and even varies over time. But, at least among public institutions, the dominant factor has been a steady decrease in support for higher education on the part of state legislatures.
Doug Webber is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Temple University. Much of his labor economics research focuses on the economics of higher education. Read Webber's full article, including detailed institutional data, as it first appeared on fivethirtyeight.com here.
By Judy Mandell
Excerpted from The Washington Post
Watching your kid sweat over college applications? Wondering which college is the best fit for your child and how to help them make that happen? We asked dozens of admissions officers to reveal the truth about admissions today. Here is what some of them told us.
Martha Blevins Allman, Wake Forest University dean of admissions: Concentrate not on being the best candidate, but on being the best person. Pay attention to what is going on in the world around you. If you do those things, not only will the world be a better place because you’re in it, your greatest admissions worry will be choosing which college to pick from. I look for beautiful, clear writing that comes to life on the essay page and offers insight into the character and personality of the student.
Tim Wolfe, College of William & Mary associate provost for enrollment and dean of admissions: Essays can help an admission committee better understand the individual and how he or she will add to the campus community. They are also an opportunity for us to evaluate a student’s ability to communicate through the written format. Whether you major in physics, history or business, you’ll need to write and be able to share thoughts and ideas with your professors and fellow students. The college application is an opportunity for the student to share his or her story and allows students the opportunity to add their voices to this process.
Ken Anselment, Lawrence University dean of admissions and financial aid: Writing an application essay might feel like you’re singing for the judges on “The Voice,” hoping that what you write will get them to pound their giant button, turn their chairs and say, “I want you.” It’s true that your voice is what we are looking for. When you write your college essay, use your authentic voice. If you’re a serious person, write your essay with a serious voice. If you’re a funny person, be funny. If you’re not a funny person, your college essay might not be the best place to try on that funny writer voice for the first time.
Stefanie Niles, Dickinson College vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications: Nothing is more important than a high school transcript showing strong academic performance in a solid curriculum. We want to admit students who will persist to college graduation, so knowing that you can do the work starts with a thorough review of high-school performance. The essay also matters; we want to see that you can write, what you write and what we can learn about you. We want to enroll students who will contribute to the life of the campus, so we are eager to see how you have contributed to your high-school community or the community in which you live.
Chris Hooker-Haring, Muhlenberg College vice president for enrollment management: Think about your extracurricular contribution — community service, athletics, the arts and elected leadership. What are you good at and what do you care about deeply outside the classroom? The college application process is a wonderful opportunity for self-discovery. You will find out things about yourself, what motivates you and what excites you. This is a passage to an exciting new chapter in your life. We want to get to know you and your story, and we want to help you in this process.
Judy Mandell is a freelance writer. Read her full article as it originally appeared on washingtonpost.com here.
By Willard Dix
Sept 9, 2016
Excerpted from forbes.com
Annually, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) publishes its State of College Admission report. It’s a clear snapshot of college admission landscape based on data collected from hundreds of institutions. The report offers a sober, disinterested look at what students and families (not to mention admission officers and high school counselors) must deal with as they contemplate the college process.
Major news outlets focus on sensational items like single-digit acceptance rates and astronomical test scores needed for admission, but the NACAC report provides broader context. Its data are taken from the annual Admission Trends and Counseling Trends Surveys that NACAC conducts among colleges and high schools. Without fanfare or hype, it highlights important aspects of the admission environment. And although geared to practitioners, it’s clearly written and authoritative, with helpful graphics and charts.
These numbers may seem mundane, but they provide an antidote to scare headlines about A+/1600 students who don’t get into Ivy League schools. Guess what? Hundreds of others didn’t, either, and they’re all going to college somewhere. Students with less than perfect numbers (which is most of them) can take heart as well–someone out there likes them.
Willard Dix was an admissions officer at Amherst College for eight years and college counselor at a Chicago private school for six. For Forbes, he covers the college admissions process and how it affects families. Read his full article as it originally appeared on forbes.com here.
By Jonathan Lash
President, Hampshire College
Sept 24, 2015
You won't find our college in the U.S. News & World Report "Best Colleges" rankings released this month. Last year Hampshire College decided not to accept SAT/ACT test scores from high school applicants seeking admission. That got us kicked off the rankings, disqualified us, per U.S. News rankings criteria. That's OK with us.
We completely dropped standardized tests from our application as part of our new mission-driven admissions strategy, distinct from the "test-optional" policy that hundreds of colleges now follow. If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores. Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation. We weighed other factors in our decision:
Standardized test scores do not predict a student's success at our college
In our admissions, we review an applicant's whole academic and lived experience. We consider an applicant's ability to present themselves in essays and interviews, review their recommendations from mentors, and assess factors such as their community engagement and entrepreneurism. And yes, we look closely at high school academic records, though in an unconventional manner. We look for an overarching narrative that shows motivation, discipline, and the capacity for self-reflection. We look at grade point average (GPA) as a measure of performance over a range of courses and time, distinct from a one-test-on-one-day SAT/ACT score. A student's consistent "A" grades may be coupled with evidence of curiosity and learning across disciplines, as well as leadership in civic or social causes. Another student may have overcome obstacles through determination, demonstrating promise of success in a demanding program. Strong high school graduates demonstrate purpose, a passion for authenticity, and commitment to positive change.
We're seeing remarkable admissions results since disregarding standardized test scores:
This move away from test scores and disqualification from the U.S. News rankings has allowed us to innovate in ways we could not before. In other words, we are free to innovate rather than compromise our mission to satisfy rankings criteria:
How can U.S. News rankings reliably measure college quality when their data-points focus primarily on the high school performance of the incoming class in such terms as GPA, SAT/ACT, class rank, and selectivity? These measures have nothing to do with the college's results, except perhaps in the college's aptitude for marketing and recruiting. Tests and rankings incentivize schools to conform to test performance and rankings criteria, at the expense of mission and innovation.
Our shift to a mission-driven approach to admissions is right for Hampshire College and the right thing to do. We fail students if we reduce them to a standardized test number tied more to their financial status than achievement. We fail students by perpetuating the myth that high standardized test scores signal "better" students. We are in the top one percent of colleges nationwide in the percentage of our undergraduate alumni who go on earn advanced degrees--this on the strength of an education where we assess their capabilities narratively, and where we never, not once, subject them to a numerical or letter grade on a test or course.
At Hampshire College, we face the same financial challenges as many colleges. But these challenges provide an opportunity to think about who we are and what matters to us. We can not lose sight of our mission while seeking revenues or chasing rankings. We are committed to remaining disqualified from the U.S. News rankings. We're done with standardized testing, the SAT, and ACT.
Jonathan Lash is the President of Hampshire College. Read his article as it originally appeared on huffingtonpost.com right here.
By Chris Teare
September 16, 2015
Excerpted from forbes.com
At a Mock Admissions Committee meeting last night at Seven Hills School, a fine independent institution in suburban Cincinnati, I saw an example of two qualities a successful college application must demonstrate: Coherence and Congruence. The applicant who won the most acceptances from students and parents led by college and university admissions officers demonstrated both qualities, and I will explain how she did it. First, however, definitions of these two C words: For something to cohere it has to “hang together.” For something to have congruence, as with geometric shapes, it has to “fit.” I have seen college applications fail the tests of either coherence, congruence, or both, and thereby fall short of earning an offer of admission. Last night, only one student of four earned offers from all 17 mock admissions committees. Here is how these qualities work when it comes to evaluating applications:
First, the transcript of courses and grades, the standardized testing (if required), the class rank (if reported), and the school profile (critical context) provide the quantitative elements available for analysis. The higher the numbers, the better. But they alone are not enough. Complementing these data are the qualitative elements available in the resume of activities, the personal statement or essay, and the counselor and teacher recommendations. The coherence test is whether or not these different elements—the ones you can add up numerically, as well as the others that you can quantify but are actually value judgments about human characteristics—all make sense together.
Last night one candidate lost support last when, with a Hispanic surname and claiming the ability to read, write, and speak Spanish, he had earned a D in the subject. Something is wrong with that picture, and it does not read to the student’s credit. Moreover, his counselor recommendation mentioned a career-ending injury for this avid soccer player, yet nowhere does the student acknowledge something the counselor found so significant. The student may have obscurely alluded to the injury in his essay with the hackneyed phrase—“Make lemons out of lemonade”—but providing little detail and demonstrating a lack of original thinking and expression by using a cliché cost him in my book. His application just didn’t hang together.
The way to demonstrate coherence is to be a qualified student who has human elements to offer the campus that add up. Such applicants have resumes of extracurricular commitment, write intelligently about items at or near the top of their list of activities, and ideally, have those endeavors and character traits corroborated in the letters written by counselors and teachers. Applicants need to make sure that their counselor knows what they do outside the classroom and can bear witness. The best applications I have read are ones where the activities, essay and recommendations all add up to that same “I know who this kid is” reaction. That is demonstrating coherence. One extremely bright applicant in last night’s exercise—the one with the toughest classes, highest grades, and strongest test scores usually fell short because he had nothing to offer outside the classroom, came across in a recommendation as a student who only worked when he was interested, and was hard to see as anyone’s roommate. Bright as he is, our committees generally did not offer him admission.
Where congruence is concerned, you need to research the institutions you are considering and assess, as best as you can, whether or not the college or university you have in mind will value what you have to offer.
Chris Teare is Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Drew University in Madison, NJ. He covers education and the college application process. Read Teare's full report as it was originally published on forbes.com right here.
By Ryan Hickey
September 9 2015
With application rates skyrocketing, it’s easy to lose
sight of the big picture by slipping into a mindset of trying to stand out. In reality, setting yourself apart
from the crowd is actually more about what you don’t do than what you do.
Although following the instructions and submitting everything on time can seem mediocre, these simple things can give you a major edge this application season. A solid application demonstrates maturity and confidence—qualities that every school is seeking in their applicants.
Here’s what you can do to stand out in the CommonApp.
Avoid gimmicks Whatever gimmicky or “show-offy” thing that you’re thinking about because you’re sure that it’s original and that the admissions officers will be so totally blown away by your unique approach that there’s just no possible way that they could ever forget you, think again. Admissions officers are sophisticated people who have been at this for numerous years. They’ve seen every trick in the book, and they find them ridiculous. Moreover, these gimmicks are disrespectful because they are an insult to the admissions officer’s intelligence. Sincerity and straightforwardness always win the day in the admissions process.
Start early Juggling tough senior courses with the CommonApp, not to mention activities and possibly a work schedule, can make the best year of high school stressful. Work to get as much done as you can as early as you can.
Translation: If you haven’t already started, do it now! In the summer, you can get your activities list together and create the early drafts of your essays. Teachers, volunteer supervisors, and employers don’t have all day to write letters of recommendation, and waiting to ask can mean missing deadlines. Therefore, asking early will help you get better quality recommendations on time.
Consider early decision options For previous generations, applying early decision was rare, but now many schools fill the majority of the slots available through early decision. If you have a top choice school, early decision can greatly improve your chances. Also, understand the school’s early decision policy. Some require that you matriculate if accepted, while others are more lenient. Early decision shouldn’t be the only option that you pursue, and applying to many schools early decision will make you seem disingenuous. However, using this option for your top school can be the right choice.
Show (a lot of) interest Schools want to select people who really want to be there, and showing great interest in the school can help your application stand apart. Arrange for a campus tour, get in contact with current students, and take the time to talk to professors in the major(s) that interest you. If it is not possible to physically visit the campus beforehand, ask the school if there are meet-ups or information sessions in your area. This can be particularly effective if you are not as well-qualified as the average applicant. Your knowledge of and interest in the school might persuade the admissions officers.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, but don’t cast too wide a net. One of the biggest mistakes that applicants make is applying to too many or too few schools. Applying to too few schools can result in not having a seat at a college this coming fall. However, the far more common error is applying to too many schools. As human beings, we only have so much stamina and can only genuinely care about a handful of things. This will be especially apparent in your essays. Applying to a high number of schools wastes both your time and that of the admissions officers. Only apply to schools about which you are truly passionate, and you will shine in the CommonApp.
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Petersons & EssayEdge. Read Ryan's full article as it was originally published on college.usatoday.com right here.
By Sarah Grant
September 2, 2015
More than 20 million students are expected to return to college quads this fall, a 24 percent increase from 2000. Still, the enrollment surge doesn't mean that all colleges have gotten more popular. Some expensive private colleges have experienced significant drops in the number of high school seniors applying, according to a recent report. Elite Boston College has suffered the biggest plunge.
Applications to the school in the 2013-2014 academic year (the most recent for which there's data) fell 28 percent from the year before, the biggest drop of any school ranked by education research website SmartClass in a recent report. SmartClass used Department of Education data to rank application levels at the top 200 "Smart Rated" colleges—a measure that combines financial affordability, career readiness, admissions selectivity, and expert opinion and academic excellence at colleges.
Most of the schools with the greatest applications decreases are small, private liberal arts colleges. These elite schools have experienced low applicant pools since 2008, in part because of rising student debt, lower job prospects, and competition from online programs. Spooked by high tuition, many students have been been opting to learn skills seen as more practical than literature or art history, such as coding.
Boston College says its dwindling application numbers don't mean it's less desirable. Instead, they say, they've made it harder for students to apply on a whim. At the school, which is ranked in the top 35 schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report, application numbers declined when the admissions committee added an essay to its required application materials, dissuading seniors who aren't serious about the school, says Jack Dunn, a spokesperson for the school.
"After 20 straight years of increased applications to BC, we made a strategic decision to add a supplemental essay requirement ... with the expectation that it would result in a more targeted applicant pool." He added that applicant numbers are less important than who applies. "The issue is fit."
Indeed, as applications fell, the school's yield—the number of admitted students who enroll—rose 3 percent, suggesting that the school is getting better at accepting prospective students who view it as their top choice.
The 10 colleges and universities with the largest drops in applications are below. Find the full list of 21 colleges in the SmartClass report here:
1. Boston College, Mass.
Applications down by: 27.96 percent
2. United States Air Force Academy, Colo.
3. Millsaps College, Miss.
4. Wofford College, S.C.
5. Rhodes College, Tenn.
6. Grinnell College, Iowa
7. University of San Diego, Calif.
8. Messiah College, Pa.
9. Whitman College, Wash.
10. Brigham Young University, Utah
Read Sarah Grant's article as it was originally published on bloomberg.com right here.
By Robert Morse & Eric Brooks
Excerpted from usnews.com
Prospective students and parents looking for the school that best fits their needs can check out the 2016 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings starting Wednesday, Sept. 9. New rankings for National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges will be available on usnews.com.
In addition to the main rankings, U.S. News for the first time will publish rankings of the Most Innovative Schools in terms of technology, facilities, academics and curriculum.
Along with the rankings, the U.S. News site offers extensive statistical profiles for each school, a comprehensive college search and detailed explanations of the ranking methodologies. Users looking for additional data, enhanced search abilities and other exclusive interactive tools can sign up for the U.S. News College Compass.
U.S. News' exclusive rankings will also be published in our "Best Colleges 2016" guidebook, which will start shipping in mid-September and go on sale on newsstands on Sept. 29.
Robert Morse and Eric Brooks organize and analyze data research for US News & World Report. Read their full article as it was originally published on usnews.com right here.
By Chris Teare
August 30, 2015
Excerpted from forbes.com
Parents go to great lengths to help their children make the best college choice; they often rely on rankings, even though they may not be the best way to choose. There is in fact a big difference between college rankings and ratings, as a proponent of the latter explained to me. If Edward “Ted” Fiske didn’t create the college guidebook genre 31 years ago, he may well have perfected it. The Fiske Guide to Colleges 2016 started off as The New York Times Selective Guide to Colleges when he was Education Editor of the Times. Because Ted has been looking at this landscape for decades, I asked him some questions. Along the way, he explained why ratings are better than rankings.
Q: Your headmaster urged you to attend a top Ivy League school, but you chose Wesleyan instead. Why did you do that, and which young people would you advise to do the same today?
A: I wanted a really good small liberal arts college in New England because I wanted to be able to do a wide range of things without sacrificing academics. I knew that if I went to a larger school, I would have to focus on one or two activities. As it turned out, I played varsity soccer and squash as well as rugby, edited the newspaper, sang in the glee club and joined a fraternity. Whether or not there were graduate students around never really occurred to me, but I do think there is wisdom in being at a place where what you are (i.e. an undergraduate) is the major focus. That’s certainly the case at liberal arts colleges.
Q: What do you make of the current emphasis on Return On Investment (ROI), especially as it relates to career-oriented majors at the undergraduate level by contrast to the liberal arts?
A: The best return on investment is an education that is going to prepare you for a career, not for the worst job you’ll ever have—which is to say your first job out of college. The best investment is in developing thinking and skills that are going to prepare you for jobs that you cannot even conceive of when you first go to work. Most people are not only going to change jobs but change careers. Preparing for a technical job that won’t continue to exist is not good return on investment. You need the skills to adapt to different situations. I remember conversations comparing liberal arts and technical education with CEOs of major corporations. They want liberal arts graduates with broad general educations, whom they will later train. They will also admit, however, that they sometimes have trouble getting this message through to their people who do their hiring, which they find frustrating.
One young liberal arts graduate I know went for an interview at a top financial services firm, where the interviewer asked why he should be hired when he had no specific financial services training. He responded that he’d looked at the biographies of the senior managers of the firm, seen that everyone at that level had a liberal arts education, and said that if it was good enough for them, he believed it would be good enough for him. He was hired and has done well.
Chris Teare writes about education, most often about the college admissions process. Read his full interview with Ted Fiske, as it was originally published on forbes.com right here.